The journey of a T20 World Cup started with India’s triumph in South Africa in 2007, a year before the inception of the Indian Premier League. It is rather strange to believe that the Men in Blue did not win another trophy in 14 years despite possessing a bank of skilled cricketers in the setup.

The side is on the verge of transition. The 2021 edition of the Cup will be the farewell tournament for Virat Kohli, the captain, and head coach Ravi Shastri; the former will continue as a batsman under a different leader. They will be keen on ending the partnership on a high, especially after hitting the jackpot in Test cricket with the recent wins in England.

India’s Mr. 360

K. L. Rahul’s explosive form in the IPL will hold India in good stead, if he opens the batting with Rohit Sharma.

Rahul has been India’s Mr. 360. He was slightly out of sorts against England earlier in March, but the unbeaten 98 off 49 balls against Chennai Super Kings in the IPL screened a demonstration of his skills. The right-hander also smashed 30 sixes; the most by any player in the tournament.

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Kohli had hinted that he could open the batting with Rohit but it is ideal if he steps down at No. 3 to let Rahul do the talking in the Power Play. India’s batting department will largely depend on these three players, besides Suryakumar Yadav — the latest entry in the star-studded department. He will need to forget the poor IPL form and take a leaf out of his success stories against England and Sri Lanka. The Mumbai batsman has two T20I fifties in four appearances for India.

Batting mainstays: Rohit Sharma and K. L. Rahul have been fairly consistent at the top of the order. Though skipper Virat Kohli had hinted that he could open the batting with Rohit Sharma, it is ideal if he moves to No. 3 to let K. L. Rahul do the talking in the powerplay.   –  K. R. Deepak

 

Chahal, a surprise omission

On the bowling front, the absence of leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal is a major talking point. Youngster Rahul Chahar was chosen ahead of the seasoned campaigner, for he is quicker through the air. But recently, it was Chahal who claimed 14 wickets in eight IPL games for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the UAE. Chahar was benched by Mumbai Indians after a couple of outings.

Ravichandran Ashwin’s return is a plus as he can handle the Power Play with his plethora of variations. Varun Chakravarthy has been difficult to score off. Left-arm spin bowler Ravindra Jadeja will be the frontline all-rounder with like-for-like Axar Patel in reserves.

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Since Hardik Pandya did not bowl in the IPL, it remains to be seen if he keeps his spot with Shardul Thakur breathing down the neck. Thakur is already a specialist seamer, and he made a strong case for selection post the batting heroics in the Test series in England. He scored 57 and 60 at The Oval to turn the tide from a precarious position.

The pace attack, comprising Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, is one of the best in the tournament. The duo can be lethal in the death overs, and the Super Over, if there is one. They have been there, done that.

Weakness: The middle-order could be fragile if Shreyas Iyer is not included in the main XI. Rishabh Pant is more of an X-factor player than somebody who will anchor an innings. Iyer dropped down in the pecking order after his shoulder injury, but before the ordeal, he has been winning games for India. The right-hander has 550 runs in 29 T20I appearances with three fifties, and he has been an IPL veteran too.

Avesh Khan, Umran Malik, Harshal Patel, Lukman Meriwala, Venkatesh Iyer, Karn Sharma, Shahbaz Ahmed and K. Gowtham will assist India in its preparations for the tournament. And in case of injuries, these players can step up to fill the void.

India will start its campaign against Pakistan in Dubai on October 24.

The squad

  • Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Rahul Chahar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Varun Chakravarthy, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami
  • Stand-by players: Shreyas Iyer, Deepak Chahar, Axar Patel

X-factor: Rishabh Pant

Rishabh Pant arrived on the scene as an attacking white-ball batsman. He has been part of the Delhi franchise in the IPL for a long time. But the wicketkeeper-batsman’s career has had its twists and turns. At one stage, he even lost his spot to Rahul.

The left-hander is another cricketer who cemented his spot in all formats by performing in a Test series. Pant’s match-winning knocks in the tour of Australia completely changed everyone’s perception. It gave him so much confidence that later in the year, he had the audacity to reverse-sweep James Anderson in a Test match.

With an array of unconventional shots that can fetch bonus runs in any situation, Pant is a clear match-winner in the T20 format.

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